How to Choose Protein Powder: What to Look for Before Buying?

Updated on  February 7, 2023
William Toro

Published By:  William Toro

Fact Checked by: Bridget MacDonald, RDN

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Do you want to be able to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle, without the high-calorie and nauseating food? Protein is an important part of any diet, and many people choose protein shakes as a way of getting that.

The problem is that there are different types of protein powders, and people don't always know which one they should go for.

That's why we've created this post: to help you find the perfect protein powder for your needs! You'll learn all about amino acids and what you can do with them — for both cooking and supplements — as well as how different proteins affect your body differently.

Let's get started.

Type of Protein Powder

There are many types of protein powders on the market, but there are only two main types: animal-based and plant-based. Let's take a closer look at them.

Animal-Based Protein Powders

These are protein powders made from milk, egg, and sometimes whey. They are often marketed as "nature's best sources of protein." While that is true, they are processed to some extent, so they don't fall into the super-foods category. They are still good products, but not as good as you might think.

Some animal-based protein powders are cheaper than many plant-based protein powders. Plant-based protein is more expensive for a single serving.

Whey protein is the liquid that comes out when milk is curdled. Whey contains the majority of all proteins in milk and is separated into cheese or yogurt-making processes. From there it may be further processed into products like whey protein powder. [1]

Whey protein powder can be found in many different flavors, sweeteners, and other additives like fiber, vitamins, etc. The most common flavor of whey protein is vanilla (which can also come in chocolate or French vanilla flavors).

Egg protein powder is powdered egg white. Since egg yolks are high in fat, they are usually not sold separately. The protein in egg whites is considered to be of high quality, although there are no studies that point to an increased health benefit when supplementing with egg white protein over another protein source.

Casein protein is a milk protein isolate. All other milk proteins have been removed from casein to leave a pure isolate. It is a very slow-digesting protein and forms a gel in the stomach that can help feed muscles for up to seven hours. [2]

This slow-digesting feature may be good for you if you have a hard time digesting food quickly because it should prevent your blood sugar from spiking too high, which could lead to fatigue and other problems.

Casein has been shown to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat in clinical trials. It may also help speed muscle recovery after exercise, although it is not clear how this would happen considering its slow-digesting nature.

Plant-Based Protein Powders

These are the types of powders your find in super-food products. They are less processed than animal-based proteins, typically contain more vitamins and minerals, and have higher bioavailability when consumed by the body. Also, they tend to taste much better than their animal counterparts when used as protein shakes or smoothies.

Soy protein powder is considered a good "replacement" for whey, at least in the case of vegetarians. [3]

Soy protein is derived from defatted soy flour, which is a by-product of soybean processing called soy flour. It is highly processed and not very bioavailable. The extraction process for making defatted soy flour involves a solvent that can eliminate many nutrients from the product, including the naturally occurring fats and oils that are essential for health.

Pea protein is low in fat and high in protein, making it the perfect choice for meal replacements. Pea protein is also easily digested, making it an ideal choice for vegan athletes.

Rice protein powder is a highly versatile product. It can be used as a meal replacement, as a bodybuilding supplement, or even as a sports drink. Rice protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle tissue. [4] See the list of the top rated rice protein powders.

Hemp protein powder is considered one of the purest plant-based proteins on the market today. It contains very little fat and cholesterol, yet its amino acid profile matches that of whey. [5]

Mixed Plant Proteins

These types of protein powders contain a blend of several different plant-based proteins, such as pea, rice, and hemp. Because they contain multiple sources of protein, they are more bioavailable than single-source plant protein powders (which is good for consumers who can't tolerate one type of protein powder).

Three Main Forms of Protein Powders

Like we said above, there are only two main types of protein powders. Animal-based and plant-based. But if we had to classify the different types of powders based on their texture and consistency, we would put them into three categories:

Protein concentrates

This is a very concentrated form of protein powder. You can expect to get a maximum of 35 grams of protein from a product in this category. The most common type of protein concentrate is whey concentrate. [3]

Protein isolates

This type of powder is considered a superior product and is far more expensive than protein concentrate. It usually contains 90% to 95% protein isolate and may cost twice as much or more per serving than protein concentrate. [3]

So why is it so expensive? This type of product has undergone an additional filtration step in the process which results in a clearer, smoother consistency. The price difference between the two products also reflects the increased amount of time and effort that goes into making this high-grade product.

Protein hydrolysates

This protein powder has undergone a fermentation process that combines the protein with naturally occurring lactic acid, resulting in a soft, smooth, and very easily digestible product. It may contain less than 20% protein (like soy proteins) or more than 50% (like dairy proteins). [6]

Protein Amino Acid Profile

The amino acid profile is a must-know if you're trying to build muscle. In other words, it's what you need to know as a bodybuilder or as a regular gym-goer as well as a woman who want to lose weight and look great.

There are different types of amino acids, which can be divided into three groups: essential (must be included in the protein powder), nonessential, and conditional amino acids. [7] To know if a product has enough amino acids, simply check its label.

Whey protein powder (concentrate or isolate) is the one with the highest level of amino acids. It contains all the essential ones like Alanine, Lysine, Threonine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Tryptophan, Valine, and Leucine. Whey protein is easily digestible. [8]

Soy protein has the most amino acids of all types of plant proteins. It is perfect for vegetarians and vegans. There are other plant-based proteins like quinoa, rice, hemp, etc., also very good for vegetarians and vegans. [7]

Intolerances and sensitivities

Most people who think of protein powder can't eat it because of intolerances and/or sensitivities. When you eat food that is not compatible with your body, you develop a reaction to it. Many people have reacted to whey (whey protein isolate) and lactose (milk sugar), and the effects can be serious: bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, and more. [9]

Other protein powders contain casein protein or dairy protein, or whey protein concentrate which may cause allergic reactions such as itching, cramps, and more. It can also cause asthma attacks in sensitive individuals such as asthmatics.

If you have allergies, you should be careful with which ingredients you use and try to find a protein powder that is free of allergens. For example, whey protein isolate has minimal lactose (milk sugar) and dairy proteins though some people who are intolerant to lactose also get allergic reactions from whey.

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Matching a Protein Powder to Your Needs

Different types of protein powders have different benefits, which depend on the reason you're using them. They can help you maintain or increase muscle mass, lose fat, improve endurance and even boost your immune system. Protein powder is also a great choice for someone who wants to add more protein to their diet but doesn't feel like eating a lot of meat.


Weight Loss

Protein powder for weight loss should contain few calories, which can be easily calculated if you know the number of servings per container. Low-fat products have the advantage of being low in calories and other nutrients as well, but if you choose a higher fat product, you could benefit from additional health benefits as long as it contains the right type of fats.

In terms of protein content, it doesn't matter whether you're looking for a lean muscle-building protein powder or one that's good for losing weight.


Muscle Building

Protein is essential when you want to build muscle, but the type of proteins you use is important, too. Whey protein is a fast-digesting protein that is used for energy and building muscles in the body. It's a good choice for people who focus on building muscle mass.

When looking for a protein powder that will help build muscle, look for one that contains whey protein isolate or concentrate which has higher amounts of amino acids than other types of proteins.


Recovery/athletic performance

Protein plays an important role in athletic performance and recovery. It is important for endurance athletes since it helps to build muscles. Many athletes mix protein powder with water or fruit juice, sometimes adding other healthy ingredients like honey, vanilla extract, or cocoa powder.

If you're looking for a protein powder that lasts longer than others, choose one that contains casein protein at high levels along with other types of proteins.



When following a diet, you should look for products that meet your diet plan and dietary needs. If you want to build muscles and lose weight as well as maintain your energy throughout the day then you should look for a protein powder that contains whey protein or a blend of whey with other proteins such as casein.

Whey protein has amino acids that raise the level of glucose in the blood which can be beneficial if you're trying to lose weight.

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Stay Vegetarian or Vegan

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you shouldn't have a problem finding good protein powders. You can choose from different types of plant-based proteins such as pea, soy, rice, and hemp.

Soy is a good choice for vegans because it contains all the essential amino acids that your body needs from protein sources.


Stick to Your Budget

Protein powders can be quite costly, and some of them contain artificial flavors and sweeteners (which aren't cheap). You can look at the price per serving to see which products are more cost-effective, but you should also choose a product that has a good amount of protein for your money. The truth is that the type of protein powder doesn't matter much when it comes to budgets.

Look at the Protein's Flavor and Taste

Protein powders come in different flavors, but you should also keep in mind the flavor of the meal you're having after you've mixed it with other ingredients. For example, an avocado shake tastes great blended with chocolate powder, but it may not go very well with peanut butter powder.

It's also true that your taste buds change over time; you'll probably enjoy different things as you get older. Make sure that what you choose has a natural flavor and if it doesn't work out for some reason, try something else.


Protein powders and supplements will help you achieve your goals and get the body you want. Whether you're exercising regularly or trying to improve your health, you need more protein in your diet, especially if you're physically active.

When choosing a protein powder, look for something that has higher levels of whey protein (isolate or concentrate) since it contains essential amino acids that will help build muscle. If you want to lose weight at the same time, choose a product that is lower in calories but high in fat if it's the right type of fats.

If you look for a protein powder based on the type of foods you eat, you can find something to suit your needs. If you follow a plant-based diet, there are good options in soy or hemp, and if you're lactose intolerant, there are dairy-free products available.

Finally, remember that what is the best protein powder for men is not necessarily the best one for women. Protein powders are used differently by different types of people based on their goals and what they are trying to achieve.


1. Kris Gunnars, BSc, Whey Protein 101: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide, retrieved from
2. WebMD, Casein protein, retrieved from
3. Jay R. Hoffman, Michael J. Falvo, Protein – Which is Best?, retrieved from
4. Jordan M. Joy, Ryan P. Lowery, Jacob M. Wilson, Martin Purpura, Eduardo O. De Souza, Stephanie MC Wilson, Douglas S. Kalman, Joshua E. Dudeck, Ralf Jägercorresponding, The effects of 8 weeks of whey or rice protein supplementation on body composition and exercise performance, retrieved from
5. James D. House, Jason Neufeld, Gero Leson, Evaluating the quality of protein from hemp seed (Cannabis sativa L.) products through the use of the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score method, retrieved from
6. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, Protein Hydrolysates, retrieved from
7. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Amino acids, retrieved from
8. Stefan H. M. Gorissen, Julie J. R. Crombag, Joan M. G. Senden, W. A. Huub Waterval, Jörgen Bierau, Lex B. Verdijk, Luc J. C. van Looncorresponding, Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates, retrieved from
9. Natalie Olsen, R.D., L.D., ACSM EP-C, Joseph Nordqvist, What are the benefits and risks of whey protein?, retrieved from

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